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The ecological impacts of an aggressive aquatic invader: is Crassula helmsii the biggest threat to European freshwater biodiversity? (BILTONP19ARIES)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Tuesday, January 08, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Research background
Biodiversity loss through biological invasion and subsequent biotic homogenisation represents one of the greatest threats to ecosystems worldwide1.
Freshwaters are disproportionately biodiverse and provide crucial ecosystem services, but are also disproportionately threatened by invasions2-3. New Zealand pygmy weed, Crassula helmsii, is the most aggressive freshwater invader in Europe, causing widespread habitat degradation and threatening aquatic plant life4-7 in the most biodiverse freshwater habitats in the landscape8.

However, limited research has been conducted on Crassula’s impacts, with no published data on invertebrates, which comprise the bulk of biodiversity in the standing waterbodies Crassula colonizes.

Our pilot studies suggest that Crassula stands are devoid of invertebrates (despite their structural complexity), that it is toxic even to non-herbivores, and that biotic release9 may underlie its spread.

This project aims to provide much-needed insight into Crassula’s impact and so inform conservation policy and practice.

Student experience
The student will acquire a broad range of doctoral-level transferrable, employment-related skills, typically through one-to-one training, including: experimental design; macroinvertebrate identification and husbandry; advanced multivariate and univariate statistics; toxicology and bioassay techniques; spectrometric assays; science communication.

This multidisciplinary project provides opportunities for the student to expand, contract or modify aspects in line with their expertise or interests.

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC Doctoral Training Partnership. Undertaking a PhD with ARIES will involve attendance at training events.

All ARIES Universities have Athena Swan Bronze status as a minimum.
Applicants from quantitative disciplines who may have limited environmental science experience may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take appropriate advanced-level courses.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 26/27 February 2019.

For further information please see or contact us at .

ARIES studentships are funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), which applies the eligibility criteria laid down by its parent body, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). These are outlined in their Terms and Conditions of Training Grants document, and given in more detail in their training Grant Guide, both of which can be found on the UKRI website.

Funding Notes

In general, UK and EU nationals who will have been resident in the UK for three years or more at the time when their PhD begins will be eligible for a full ARIES studentship. UK and EU nationals who have been resident outside the UK but within the EU during the qualifying period will usually be eligible for a ‘fees only’ studentship, which pays research costs and tuition fees but gives no help with living expenses.

In case of uncertainty, the planned university of registration should be contacted for eligibility advice; or the ARIES administrators: .


1. Clavero, M. & García-Berthou, E. 2005. TREE 20: 110.
2. Dudgeon, D. et al. 2006. Biol. Rev. 81: 163–182.
3. Strayer, D.L. & Dudgeon, D. 2010. J. N. Am. Benthol. Soc. 29:344–358.
4. Dawson, F.H. & Warman, E.A. 1987. Biol. Conserv. 42: 247–272.
5. Lockton, A.J. 2009. Species account: Crassula helmsii. Botanical Society of the British Isles. [online]
6. Euwald, N.C. 2014. Crassula helmsii in the New Forest – a report on the status, spread and impact of this non-native invasive plant, and the efficacy of control techniques following a two-year trial. Freshwater habitats Trust Oxford. [online]
7. Langdon, S.J. et al. 2004. Weed Technology 18: S1349-1352.
8. Williams, P. et al. 2003. Biol. Conserv. 115: 329-341
9. Keane, R.M. & Crawley, M.J. 2002. TREE 17:164-170
10. McAbendroth, L….& Bilton, D.T. 2005. Oikos 111: 279-290.
11. Stevens, J.F. et al. 1995. Biochem. Syst. Ecol. 23: 157-165

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